A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Hey Cinderella and The Frog Prince

August 9, 2011

Hey Cinderella / The Frog Prince

Tonight represents another of our double headers. We did this for a couple short John Cleese movies a little while ago, and for a couple Muppet Christmas specials last year. With these shorter features in our collection there was a danger of overlooking them, so I’m so delighted that we’ve found a way to fit them into the project.

These two movies fit naturally together. They’re both re-tellings of familiar fairy tales from early in Jim Henson’s career, one from 1969 and one from 1971. Both feature Featherstone and the King and Kermit the Frog. Last summer Amanda and I went out to Lexington, MA to see a traveling exhibit of Jim Henson memorabilia and one of the things I really enjoyed seeing there was the wide collection of sketches by Jim of various Muppets, including the Muppetland King and Featherstone. They’re such a classic Henson pairing. The tall, thin uptight one and the squat playful one.

What impresses me most about these two specials is how quintessentially Muppetty they are. This was years before The Muppet Show, years before Sesame Street. Jim has already established his sense of humor and his shtick for the characters. I’m particularly happy to see the first ever appearance by Sweetums, always one of my favorite full body Muppets in the second feature. And of course it’s great to see Kermit already taking his role as the lone voice of sanity in a world of silliness.

The first feature, Cinderella, is full of corny humor. The twist to this story is that in this version Cinderella and Prince Charming meet before the ball, but Cinderella doesn’t realize that he’s the prince because she meets him in a garden while he’s talking to his friend the frog. The prince is desperate to find a girl who doesn’t know who he is, and in Cinderella he has that girl. She doesn’t recognize him from the money and knows him only as Arthur. So they agree to meet each other at the masque ball the Prince’s father is throwing for his birthday.

It has to be said that the two of them do deserve each other. They’re both affably dim for the most part, though Cinderella seems to be the more intelligent of the two. The prince in particular doesn’t have a single thought in his handsome little head.

I think it’s in the juxtaposition of familiar tropes that this movie gets its charm. There’s the tale of Cinderella attending the ball, but there’s also a sort of corny sit-com feel as well, especially when Cinderella’s fairy god-mother shows up after it has been established that she isn’t a great magician. Indeed she’s been working as a kind of lame lounge act, and has been completely failing to change a pumpkin into a coach. Her ugly step-sisters, in a very Sesame Street scene, decide that the best gift for the king is a pair of old socks (his response? “I already have a pair of old socks!”) Then there’s Splurge, the giant radish-loving purple monster. He’s a friend of Kermit’s and although he’s not a crucial part of the story he provides a lot of great fun.

This first feature is mostly one-liners and silly jokes. Characters break the fourth wall and talk to the camera. Even though it’s set in a magical kingdom there’s a modern day feel to it at times. Well, a late sixties feel at least. By contrast the second one feels more like a musical. It features a number of fun songs and a sort of fantasy adventure feel to it. Of course since it’s The Frog Prince it also involves an awful lot of frogs.

Surprisingly it turns out that Kermit is not the Frog Prince, instead it is Robin, who is actually a knight known as Sir Robin the Brave who has been enscorcelled to be a frog by an evil witch. Meanwhile the lovely young princess Melora has been cursed so that she can only talk in spoonerisms. This is so that her father the king cannot discover what she knows: that his long-lost sister is not in fact his sister at all but is the same evil witch that changed Robin. Her pet is an ogre that lives in the dungeons beneath the castle that she affectionately calls Sweetums.

It’s strange to see Sweetums portrayed as a dim witted bad-guy here. He’s always been a big lumbering hulk, but basically kind-hearted. I suppose he is that here too… he just wants to eat a frog for some reason.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that the catchy songs in this movie were not the work of cool little person and unofficial Muppet Paul WIlliams. They have such a familiar feel to them. Instead it is Joe Raposo who created fun ditties like the lullaby for Sweetums and the fantastic ode to being a frog sung by Kermit and his frog companions.

In spite of the fact that these movies were made way back at the start of the seventies they’ve aged spectacularly well. Muppets are, of course, ageless. That’s part of their appeal. The only slightly dated part is the appearance of the human co-stars and it’s pretty easy to overlook that. I don’t watch these movies for the humans anyhow. I’m in it for the fun, for the felt, for the Muppety joy of it. It’s always a pleasure to throw these in for another viewing.

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August 9, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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